From Queen Shoals to Birch Run, WV

Porter Creek to the Elk River

Elk River
The Elk River at Birch Run, West Virginia

Take a right turn off of State Route 4 at Queen Shoals at the very western edge of Clay County, West Virginia. Cross the Elk River, and you take a turn into the past. Life is slower here, and folks that you meet along the way take the time to talk. A few scattered homesites were established along Porter Creek, Queen Shoals Creek, Jumping Gut Creek, Little and Big Sycamore Creeks, and other small creeks flowing into the Elk River by the time Clay County was formed in 1858, named in honor of Henry Clay (1777-1852). By the close of the Civil War, a post office was established a few miles from Queen Shoals right along Porter Creek. First named Pleasant Retreat, which it certainly is, the name was changed 40 or so years later to Bomont, a name having no connection to anything or anyone in the area. About a mile farther up Porter Creek, near the hamlet of Odessa, the Golden Delicious apple was developed around 1914.

Bomont, WV Post Office Turn to the left at the Bomont Post Office (photo to the left). The narrow winding road (one lane in many places) was finally tar bound about 5 years ago, but it didn't last. The Birch Run Road passes through one of the oldest gas and oil well fields in the United States that is still operational. The first gas and oil wells were drilled here around 1908. This road, up from Porter Creek to the top of the ridge, and then down to Birch Run, on the Elk River, is the first established road in Clay County.

Old timers who live along the Birch Run road remember times past when Monday was wash day at the Elk River. An old gasoline powered Maytag was tucked in under the old rail road bridge, very near where the above photo was taken. Ladies and their daughters would travel by horse and sled down the steep, narrow road, and meet at Birch Run to do their wash. Even though many of the houses in the area had free natural gas, if the gas pipeline crossed their property, the water wells at their homes didn't provide enough water to do the laundry. The women would have to build a fire in order to heat the water for the wash.

Birch Run RoadWhen the railroad was originally built up the Elk River in 1890, it was simply called the "Black Jack Line." It went through many ownerships and name changes until becoming the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1917, having reached Birch Run around 1903 where a flag station was established. A store and post office at Birch Run, named "Mollie" after the Postmaster, was in operation from about 1912 to the early 1950's. Mail and supplies for the store would be delivered by the railroad. During the 1930's, one of the King girls, young Mary Lee, would ride a horse a little more than a mile down to the store with a list of supplies needed by her mother. Not being able to get back onto the large horse without something to climb upon, she would hand the list to Mollie, and wait patiently outside on the horse while the items were being gathered. Hoisting the hundred pound feed sack containing the grocery items, along with the day's mail, up onto the horse, she'd then make her way back up the road to the top of the ridge where she lived on the family farm.

Times have changed. There is nothing now at Birch Run along the Elk River except a few weekend cabins often hidden by the morning mists. The B&O tracks were pulled up in the early 1980's. The only evidence that the famous Golden Delicious apple tree grew up the creek from the Bomont Post Office is an historical marker. And many of the Kings, dating back to 1792, rest in the King Family Cemetery at the top of the ridge.